Roll Over Beethoven

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"Roll Over Beethoven"
Chess single
Single by Chuck Berry
from the album Chuck Berry Is on Top
B-side "Drifting Heart"
Released May 1956 (1956-05)
Format 7" 45-rpm & 10" 78-rpm record
Recorded April 16, 1956[1]
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:23
Label Chess #1626
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) Leonard Chess, Phil Chess
Chuck Berry singles chronology
"No Money Down"
(1955)
"Roll Over Beethoven"
(1956)
"Too Much Monkey Business"
(1956)

"Roll Over Beethoven" is a 1956 hit single by Chuck Berry, originally released on Chess Records, with "Drifting Heart" as the B-side. The lyrics of the song mention rock and roll and the desire for rhythm and blues to replace classical music. The title of the song is an imperative directed at the composer Ludwig van Beethoven to roll over in his grave in reaction to the new genre of music that Berry was promoting. The song has been covered by many other artists. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 97 on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[2]

Inspiration and lyrics[edit]

According to Rolling Stone[3] and Cub Koda of Allmusic,[4] Berry wrote the song in response to his sister Lucy always using the family piano to play classical music when Berry wanted to play popular music. The lyric "roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news" refers to how classical composers would roll over in their graves upon hearing that classical music had given way to rock and roll.

In addition to the classical composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the lyrics mention or allude to several popular artists: "Early in the Mornin'" is the title of a Louis Jordan song; "Blue Suede Shoes" refers to the Carl Perkins song; and "hey diddle diddle", from the nursery rhyme "The Cat and the Fiddle", is an indirect reference to the Chess recording artist Bo Diddley, who was an accomplished violin player. Although the lyrics mention rocking and rolling, the music that the classics are supposed to step aside for is referred to as rhythm and blues. The lyric "a shot of rhythm and blues" was appropriated as the title of a song recorded by Arthur Alexander and others.

The lyric about a "rhythm revue" refers to old-style R&B shows, in which numerous artists appeared on one bill in front of a big band.[citation needed]

Release[edit]

Berry's version was originally released as a single by Chess Records in May 1956, with "Drifting Heart" as the B-side.[5] It peaked at number 7 on the Billboard R&B chart and number 29 on the pop chart. "Roll Over Beethoven" and three other Berry songs were included on the album Rock, Rock, Rock, promoted as the soundtrack of the film of the same name, but only four of the twelve songs on the album were used in the film.

"Roll Over Beethoven" has been released numerous times on compilation albums.

Critical acclaim[edit]

Berry's single was one of 50 recordings chosen in 2003 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In 2004, "Roll Over Beethoven" was ranked number 97 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". The accompanying review stated that it "became the ultimate rock & roll call to arms, declaring a new era".

The opening guitar solo sounds similar to Berry's most famous hit, "Johnny B. Goode". The sheet music for the two songs is very similar.[6] Koda calls it a "masterpiece" that helped to define rock and roll.[4]

Cover versions[edit]

"Roll Over Beethoven"
The Swedish single release of the song, backed with "Please Mr. Postman"
Single by The Beatles
from the album With the Beatles
B-side "Please Mister Postman" (Canada)
Released November 22, 1963
Recorded July 30, 1963
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:48
Label Capitol 72133 (Canada)
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) George Martin

"Roll Over Beethoven" is one of the most widely covered songs in popular music – "a staple of rock & roll bands", according to Koda[4] – with notable versions by Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles and the Electric Light Orchestra.

The Beatles[edit]

"Roll Over Beethoven" was a favourite of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison even before they chose "the Beatles" as their name, and they continued to perform it right into their American tours of 1964. Their version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was recorded on July 30, 1963, for their second British LP, With the Beatles, and features Harrison on vocals and guitar.[7][8] In the United States, it was released April 10, 1964, as the opening track of The Beatles' Second Album.[9] and May 11, 1964, as the opening track of the second Capitol EP, "Four by the Beatles". It was released by Capitol in Canada with "Please Mister Postman" as the B-side. This release reached number 68 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100[10] and number 30 on the Cash Box Singles chart.[11]

In 1994, the Beatles released a live version of "Roll Over Beethoven" on Live at the BBC. This live version was recorded on February 28, 1964, and broadcast on March 30, 1964, as part of a BBC series starring the Beatles called From Us to You.[12] This version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was used in the film Superman III, directed by Richard Lester, who also directed the Beatles' first two films, A Hard Day's Night and Help!.

The Rutles' song "Blue Suede Schubert" is based on the Beatles' cover of this song.

Personnel[edit]

Electric Light Orchestra[edit]

"Roll Over Beethoven"
Single by Electric Light Orchestra
from the album ELO 2
B-side "Queen of the Hours"
Released 12 January 1973 (UK)
27 January 1973 (US)
Format 7" single
Recorded 1972, at AIR Studios
Genre Rock and roll, symphonic rock, progressive rock[13]
Length 8:09 (US album version)
7:03 (UK album version)
4:32 (Single version)
3:42 (US promo single version)
Label Harvest
Writer(s) Chuck Berry/Ludwig van Beethoven
Producer(s) Jeff Lynne
Electric Light Orchestra singles chronology
"10538 Overture"
(1972)
"Roll Over Beethoven"
(1973)
"Showdown"
(1973)
ELO 2 track listing

Electric Light Orchestra's (ELO) elaborate eight-minute reworking of "Roll Over Beethoven", on the album ELO 2 in 1973, included an opening musical quote from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and clever interpolations of material from the symphony's first movement into Berry's song. This became one of ELO's signature songs and was used to close all of their concerts. "Roll Over Beethoven" was the second single released by the band, in January 1973, and became their second consecutive top ten hit in the UK. An edited version of the track from ELO 2 was a hit in the United States.

Chicago radio superstation WLS, which gave the song much airplay, ranked "Roll Over Beethoven" as the 89th most popular hit of 1973.[14] It reached as high as number 8 (for two weeks) on their surveys of September 1 and 8, 1973.[15] The song reached number six on the competing station WCFL.[16]

Chart performance[edit]

Iron Maiden[edit]

Iron Maiden recorded "Roll Over Vic Vella", an adaptation of the Berry song, with new lyrics (written by Steve Harris) about Vella, the band's longtime tour manager. It was released as the B-side of their single "From Here to Eternity".

Narvel Felts[edit]

Narvel Felts covered the song in 1982. His version went to number 64 on the Hot Country Singles chart in 1982.[24]

The Velaires[edit]

In 1961, the Flairs (not to be confused with the doo-wop group) recorded a version unsuccessfully. Later that year they changed their name to the Velaires and signed with Jamie Records and released it again. It quickly reached number 1 in Los Angeles. They had also been given the opportunity to perform it on the television program American Bandstand.

Pat Wayne and the Beachcombers (with Jimmy Page)[edit]

A 1964 version by Pat Wayne and the Beachcombers is noteworthy because of the involvement of the guitarist Jimmy Page, later of Led Zeppelin. It was re-released in 1989 as part of the compilation Jimmy Page: Session Man.

References[edit]

  1. ^ 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Chuck Berry (CD). Chuck Berry. MCA Records. 1999. MCAD-11944. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ "Rolling Stone Review of "Roll Over Beethoven"". Retrieved June 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c ""AMG Review of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven"". Retrieved June 17, 2011. 
  5. ^ Rudolph, Dietmar. "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry: The Chess Era (1955–1966)". Retrieved March 1, 2007. 
  6. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". New York: Rolling Stone. December 9, 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-06-22. Retrieved December 26, 2011. [not in citation given (See discussion.)]
  7. ^ Mark Lewisohn (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. pp. 34, 37. ISBN 0-517-57066-1. 
  8. ^ "Show 5 - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll: The rock revolution gets underway. [Part 1] : UNT Digital Library". Digital.library.unt.edu. 2016-08-17. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  9. ^ Mark Lewisohn (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. p. 201. 
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 67. ISBN 0898201888. 
  11. ^ Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950–1981. Metuchen, New Jersey, and London: The Scarecrow Press. p. 34. 
  12. ^ Live at the BBC (booklet). The Beatles. London: Apple Records. 1994. 31796. 
  13. ^ Bruce Eder. "Electric Light Orchestra II - Electric Light Orchestra | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  14. ^ "The WLS Big 89 of 1973". Wlshistory.com. 
  15. ^ "wls090873". Users.qwest.net. 1973-09-08. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  16. ^ "wcfl730901". Oldiesloon.com. 1973-09-01. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  17. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  18. ^ Hung, Steffen. "Discografie Electric Light Orchestra". dutchcharts.nl. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "charts.de - Electric Light Orchestra". charts.de. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "Electric Light Orchestra". Offfical Charts Company. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Electric Light Orchestra - Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  22. ^ Hawtin, Steve. "Song artist 171 - Electric Light Orchestra". Tsort.info. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X. 
  24. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research. p. 143. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 

External links[edit]